Eeb Allay Ooo!: shouting at monkeys to shine a light on cultural iniquity (Review)
Eeb Allay Ooo! tells the moving story of a young migrant man in India trying to find his voice in society by shouting at sacred monkeys.
Eeb Allay Ooo! tells the tale of a young migrant worker tasked with the unenviable job of shooing away protected macaque monkeys from New Delhi’s civic buildings. It has been deemed inhumane to allow the macaque’s natural predator – the langur monkeys – from handling the task. The film’s title comes from the sounds made by a langur that the monkey-wranglers are tasked with learning in order to scare off the macaques. The absurdity of the job is, naturally, an opportunity for the director to shine a light on the marginalized members of society through a satirical lens.
I am not an expert in modern Indian politics or cultural conflict, but it is hard to miss the universality of the film’s message. Time and again circumstances conspire against our protagonist, Anjani. He struggles to find his voice – both in society and in monkey shouting. Locals who visit to feed the monkeys (considered sacred by many) ignore Anjani’s efforts. Shopkeepers look on with disdain as he attempts to shoo them off. His bosses see his efforts at ingenuity – using a recording of a better “shouter” or using posters of langurs – as affronts to the process.
Anjani cannot find his voice because society is structured in such a way as to mute him. His bank account is managed by his brother-in-law because he is an immigrant. He cannot move to a different job because he has not been in educated in the requisite skills for any more advanced vocation – he cannot speak English and he is not competent in computers. Indian society offers neither Anjani nor his family any adequate safety net.
Critical to the film’s effectiveness is lead actor Shardul Bhardwaj. His features are so youthful that his moustache and scruff seem almost drawn upon his face. His innocence in appearance helps bring focus about the societal pressures on migrants. Anjani is not the sort of man who can effectively squawk at monkeys, rather he is intimidated by them. Not only does he know that he cannot push back against his bosses, but also that he cannot even risk a spat with other downtrodden members of society. It is an effective performance with just enough torment beneath the surface.
There is some comedy here, but the film struggles to balance tone. Dark personal drama and biting humor are a delicate blend, and first-time director Prateek Vats cannot quite balance the tone. It is difficult tonal whiplash to zing between a man running around cosplaying as a langur monkey in one scene to a brutal structural, societal injustice in the next. Vats certainly has a voice, and I suspect he will continue to have searing insights into Indian society in future films.
Eeb Allay Ooo! premiered on YouTube on 31st May, as part of the We Are One Film Festival.
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